Japan has fallen to 25th place in a world ranking of innovation — down five places from 2011 — according to a study conducted by INSEAD, an international graduate school and research institution concerned with innovation in countries around the world. Japan’s economy, still the third-largest in the world, continues to rest on past achievements rather than advancing toward a better future.

While Japan ranked relatively highly in some sections of the study, Japan’s knowledge and technology output came in at 15th, its infrastructure ranked seventh, and the availability of scientists and engineers came in at second in the world.

Although it has a relatively high position on institutions, human capital, research, and business and market sophistication, Japan was relatively low on creative output, a stunningly low 61st place, lower overall than almost every Asia-Pacific country.

When the number of patents, journal articles, business startups, high-tech exports as well as creative goods and services are rated so much lower than the infrastructure itself, Japan is doing something seriously wrong in its approach to innovation.

That lower ranking may be in part attributable to the depressed national mood following the Tohoku and nuclear disasters in March 2011. A change will depend on a different balance of incentives, organization and attitude.

The scientists, entrepreneurs, designers and engineers sitting comfortably in Japan’s nicely accomplished structures need to stop waiting for a bolt of inspiration and instead take action.

Encouraging and supporting organizations, businesses and investment firms with the right balance of financial incentives and market protections can spur innovation.

The government can help to balance these so that creative goods and services will be dispersed, exported and promoted in an efficient and timely manner. Better methods of moving products and services from idea to reality must be developed, as well as better methods to incubate ideas in the first place.

Innovation is as much an attitude as a set of procedures and infrastructure. Japanese businesses and government ministries need to quit playing it safe.

A bolder approach is especially important since Japan’s demographics is weighted against innovation.

Other countries have increasingly younger workforces, which tend to produce innovative and creative changes in a wide variety of fields. Innovating for the next century depends on Japan’s establishing a new vision of itself as an innovative country.

Some businesses in Japan are already moving toward expanded use of the Internet as one important platform for linking up diverse resources, collaborating productively and breaking down the barriers of language and geographic distance.

Japan must reinvent some parts of its current system, and its current attitude, if it expects to enter a new era of development, growth and productivity.

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